“I conveniently put it off although I am above 40 years old,” Heng says. “I spent whatever free time I had with my family as both my kids were in lower Primary school then. I would rather spend more on their paediatrician’s bills than on my own.”
So, Heng was shocked when he went for a company health screening last year. “I found out that my uric acid and cholesterol were on the high side ― this was not the case in 2013,” he states. “Now, I watch my diet and go for yearly health screenings, in case I need medication.”
Notes Dr Derek Koh, head of Thomson Wellth Clinic, “Many individuals would have certain family members who died of illnesses like heart attacks and strokes. These illnesses are actually very preventable or treatable, especially if detected early.”
“Many individuals would have certain family members who died of illnesses like heart attacks and strokes. These illnesses are actually very preventable or treatable, especially if detected early.”
Find out why your should get your health checked regularly, plus Dr Koh has advice on which tests to consider doing as well as the follow-up action you can take.
1. Screening helps nip serious diseases in the bud
In a nutshell, health screening is essentially preventive medicine as it pinpoints factors which cause an individual to be at risk, Dr Koh explains.
He notes, “Health screening looks out for risk factors that make a person susceptible to certain diseases. Common causes of death include heart attacks and strokes, which don't occur spontaneously.”
The primary causes of heart disease and stroke are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and lack of exercise ― men are also more prone to heart disease. After evaluating these risk factors, the doctor will further screen a patient.
Dr Koh says, “If a patient is at high risk of developing heart disease, we will check the heart. We may do a treadmill ECG, arrange a stress echo test (assessing the heart’s function) or a CT angiogram (which shows narrowed or blocked areas of a blood vessel).”
2. Statistics show that cancers are more common than you think
While we would all like to think that our family members would never get cancer, the stats say otherwise. So, it is essential to get regular health check-ups.
Explaining that preventive medicine is based on national statistics, Dr Koh notes that some 30 per cent of the population would die of cancer, and another 30 per cent would die of heart attacks and strokes.
He points out, “Based on statistics, three people in a room of 10 will get cancer… We won’t know which three people will get cancer, so this is something I advise my patients to screen for as it’s very common. We will look at the top three or five most common cancers that the patient might be at risk of having, based on family history and national statistics.”
3. Early detection of illnesses can prolong your life significantly
If cancer is detected at Stage One, the survival rate for most cancers would probably be 80 or even 90 per cent, Dr Koh notes. “But three or four years down the road, when the cancer is at Stage Three or Four, survival drops to around a measly 50 per cent or even as low as 5 per cent for more aggressive cancers.”
So, early detection of cancer makes a huge difference in whether or not a patient survives. However, as most individuals won’t be able to perceive Stage One cancers, health screening is critical in detecting cancers at such an early stage, he points out.
“When cancers are detected early, an individual has a much better chance of living to 80 or 90,” he adds.
4. Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t always enough
“However, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are also very genetic,” Dr Koh points out.” We do see skinny people who work out and vegetarians who consume low-cholesterol foods develop high cholesterol. So, it is still useful to do screening.”
“If cancer is detected at Stage One, the survival rate for most cancers would probably be 80 or even 90 per cent… When cancers are detected early, an individual has a much better chance of living to 80 or 90.”
Certain types of cancers, such as nasopharyngeal cancer, are genetic as well. While not one of the most common cancers in Singapore, Chinese men, especially of Cantonese descent, tend to suffer from this disease.
“For these particular group of people (even if the men are Hokkien or Teochew), I’ll probably advise nasopharyngeal screening more thoroughly, given that it’s a genetic disease,” Dr Koh says.
5. Screening targets specific health issues
Health screening not only prevents the development of diseases and detects illness at an early stage, it also addresses existing health issues.
“Many patients who come to see me will not be completely well,” observes Dr. Koh. “They’ll do health screening because of certain symptoms, like losing 10 kg or developing chest pains.”
Therefore, screening serves as a diagnostic tool to determine the underlying cause of someone’s symptoms. He explains, “It’s almost like a family doctor, looking at a patient holistically.”
Health screening FAQs
When should you start screening your health?
The official age is 40, although high cholesterol or high blood pressure may be genetic and can occur when a person is in their 20s.
“There's no harm in someone in their 20s coming for health screening, but they would probably not need to do as many different tests,” Dr Koh states.
What tests should you select?
Essential tests would check for cholesterol levels, sugar levels and your blood count. Blood count tests are especially important for women, who are more prone to anaemia. Women are also advised to do a thyroid scan as thyroid cancer is one of the top 10 cancers among females.
Certain health screening packages also come with kidney and liver function tests. “But for most patients without prior illnesses and risk factors like heavy drinking, these other functions should be normal,” Dr Koh assures.
What happens after you get a health screening, especially if you receive abnormal results?
Dr Koh says that they’ll try to address a patient’s lifestyle habits first. “If that doesn't work or the patient is too stubborn to make lifestyle changes, we’ll suggest supplements. If the patient is not keen on supplements or they don’t work, we’ll prescribe medication.”
For example, a patient’s obesity and alcohol consumption (if any) will be addressed if they have high triglycerides (circulating fats). If the patient doesn’t wish to address that, a supplement like fish oil which lowers triglyceride levels would be prescribed, or medication.
What happens if patients are taking medicine for a chronic condition?
Patients should continue taking their medication, Dr Koh says. “However, they should avoid taking diabetic medication when fasting for a screening, as they may become hypoglycemic.”
Patients should also avoid taking certain high blood pressure medicine, especially those that lower the heartbeat. “If we want to run a treadmill ECG for this patient and get his heartbeat up to about 85 to 90 per cent of its maximum, a beta-blocker medication will make the test non-conclusive,” Dr Koh explains.
Other stories to check out…
How long can you store fresh foods?